Categories
Gaming Technology

Anti-Aliasing

I am not a graphics programmer. I have only passing knowledge of the graphics pipeline and could not code a shader to save my life. But as a gamer I am fascinated by the research behind anti-aliasing techniques, and so it was with great interest I read on Neogaf about the new AA technique being used in Farcry 4, Hybrid Reconstruction Anti-Aliasing, presented at SIGGRAPH 2014. Of particular note is that this technique performs a little better on AMD’s latest graphics architecture, GCN, which is present in both current generation consoles. It suggests that, given the console focused development of most AAA game studios (and game engine studios), the next few years could see more research into graphical techniques optimised or more performant on the GCN architecture, and thus influence the direction of high-end graphics performance on the PC.

A Comparison of Anti-Aliasing Techniques

This Reddit post gives a pretty good explanation of the differences between the most common anti-aliasing options used up to now. The main gist of those differences that I want to point out is that AA techniques usually either work during the process of creating an image from the 3D objects, or on that rasterised image just before it is output to your display. The former will typically change the colour of a pixel in the image to be output, while the latter will usually apply a blur effect where it detects that there is an edge between one object and another.

Most games in the past few years offer a choice between the two major camps of anti-aliasing: Multisampling AA (or one of its related techniques – EQAA or CSAA) and a morphological AA technique, usually FXAA. FXAA was the cheaper option in terms of hit to graphics performance, and usually with a negligible visual difference to MSAA (Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror wrote a piece on this in 2011). After Atwood’s post in 2011, Subpixel Morphological Antialiasing was introduced by a team from Crytek and Universidad de Zaragoza. SMAA gained traction as a better looking alternative to FXAA after the movie on the SMAA website made the rounds on gaming forums and news sites, and an SMAA injector was released.

There is also the parent technique of MSAA, aka the grand-daddy of AA, which is Supersampling (SSAA), and is typically offered by games optimised in some way for PCs (e.g. The Witcher 2, Metro: Last Light). Because it essentially renders the game at double or quadruple the display resolution, it will destroy most video cards (figuratively speaking). Finally, TXAA is another family of anti-aliasing which is restricted to Nvidia cards (though AMD has an equivalent). Since I’ve not had an Nvidia card recently, I can offer little comment about how it looks.

Hybrid Reconstruction Anti-Aliasing

HRAA is a technique that appears to (again, I’m no graphics programmer) mix temporal anti-aliasing (TXAA is one such technique) with two other families of anti-aliasing: coverage-based anti-aliasing and analytical anti-aliasing. Temporal anti-aliasing analyses frames before the current frame and ensures that the colour of a pixel makes sense when moving from the last frame to the current frame. Coverage-based anti-aliasing is related to MSAA (CSAA is a coverage-based AA technique), and differs in that (basically) it looks at more 3D triangles that overlap and neighbour a particular pixel than MSAA does. Finally, analytical anti-aliasing looks at the distance between the pixel and the nearest vertical and horizontal edges.

The performance cost of HRAA is relatively low, greater than FXAA’s, but less than MSAA. However, the latest Nvidia architecture, Maxwell, removed support for CSAA and potentially may not be optimised for HRAA because of the lack of requisite direct access to coverage buffers in the graphics pipeline. This is the most interesting thing I took away from this is that potentially as we progress through this current generation of consoles the most impressive techniques for improving visuals will be optimised or restricted for the graphical architecture of the consoles – AMD’s GCN. That’s only my amateur observation though, and it’s not as if Nvidia will not pursue their own research on realtime rendering techniques and other parts of the game engine. Nvidia still has significant control over the physics middleware market with PhysX (with some impressive flying debris in the latest Batman games), have responded to AMD’s TressFX with HairWorks, and has previously developed TXAA and HBAO+. But for the next few years the largest proportion of graphics programming work in video games will be done on an AMD architecture.

Categories
Gaming

New Monitor

I’ve just installed a second monitor for my PC, the QNIX QX2710 LED Evolution II SE. This 2560×1440 monitor is one of those famous Korean monitors that offer a high-resolution IPS (or more accurately Samsung PLS, which is essentially the same thing) monitor for a relatively cheap price. The downside is that the panels are A- panels, so they’re defective enough to be rejected from a big brand monitor, but those defects are not major. For example, it may have up to 6 dead pixels. Luckily mine has no dead pixels, though it does have backlight bleed.

The other feature of these monitors that attracts PC gamers is that the refresh rate can potentially be overclocked up to 120Hz, with most getting at least 96Hz. This roughly means you can play games at framerates higher than 60 fps with no tearing (up to the refresh rate of the monitor). My monitor can get up to 110Hz without issue, it seems (though my frame-skipping analysis was quite rushed). With Wolfenstein and Bioshock Infinite I can play with V-sync off and get no screen tearing (which was a noticeable problem on my old monitor with V-sync off). The issue is that to achieve those refresh rates with AMD graphics cards you need to use a third-party patch for the AMD graphics drivers, and that patch disables hardware accelerated video and HDCP (necessary if you want to watch Blurays on your PC).

But otherwise it’s a fine monitor for the price I paid for it, $345 including shipping from South Korea (the price has since gone up). I purchased from AccessoriesWhole on eBay, but I hear that Dream-Seller and Greensum are also good sellers to buy from.

Categories
Gaming

Frontiersman Gamer: Not the Gathering

I’ve decided to start a new semi-regular column, which I have lovingly named Frontiersman Gamer. Here I’ll talk about games – video games, board games, card games, etc. – that will probably not be familiar to the average video gamer. In the beginning I’ll be focusing on tabletop games, and in this one I’ll be starting with the very familiar name of Richard Garfield.

It would not be a stretch to say that readers would be familiar with Magic: The Gathering, the popular collectible card game designed by Richard Garfield. Readers may also be familiar with other collectible card games (CCGs) such as Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokémon and Cardfight! Vanguard. The premise of these games is straightfoward – you collect cards buy purchasing multiple booster packs and preconstructed decks, you construct a deck out of your cards, and you compete with a friend in a head-to-head battle.

But there exists a plethora of other card games that do not fall within the category of collectible card game (in fact, they might be more aptly described as board games despite lacking, well, boards). One of which was designed by Richard Garfield himself many years ago. Trading random packs of cards for core sets and expansions with fixed decklists, you can often get complete game experiences out of the box without the need to invest in building a competitive deck (though drafting does go some way to solving that issue for CCGs). Sometimes they do away with the premise of players battling head-to-head entirely. Let me expose you to a series of games where the story that emerges is sometimes more enjoyable than the mechanics of the game, and where building cities can be just as fun as fighting orcs.

Categories
Gaming Web Design

Pokemon Black and White 2

The Pokemon Black and White 2 website came out, and I am simply amazed at how they created it using only JavaScript. It seems only a short time ago that they were relying on Flash to make their interactive game sites.

Categories
Gaming

PS Vita and Gravity Rush Impressions

So I decided to get a PS Vita, and it came last Friday. Mine was ordered from SuperUFO for US$254, with a 16GB memory card for US$49.95. Together in Australian dollars, that $345.20 including shipping. Pretty cheap compared to Australian prices.

Now as for why I got a PS Vita, it was essentially for one reason – Persona 4: The Golden. The fact that I could play the PSP games I already owned on PSN, and the ability to play any other future interest PS Vita games, are bonuses as far as I am concerned.

With that in mind, lets move onto my impressions!

Categories
Gaming

E3 2012 Day 0: Psychics, Survivors, Pirates and Hackers

On the whole there was disappointment at Microsoft’s conference (apart from the South Park game and segment), a better response to Sony’s conference, and great reception to the games shown at Ubisoft’s conference. That said, Ubisoft’s conference also had the worst presenters, with an awkward Tobuscus not as awesome as his literal trailers, and a woman who made references to ‘girl wood’ (as opposed to the more common term ‘lady boner’). While these two might be awesome in other places, they are not good at hosting media events. Then there’s EA. Tumbleweed would fit on that stage. Dead Space 3 was the only thing that blipped for me in that conference.

Rise Kujikawa on the other hand would be an awesome host.

The big ones to watch so far are Watch Dogs, AC3, The Last of Us and BEYOND: Two Souls. Far Cry 3 doesn’t look to shabby either (and boobies), while Rayman Legends fulfils some inate need for good 2D platforming.

One thing to note is that this year is the year of the bow! Here’s a preliminary list of games shown so far that feature a bow:

  • Assassin’s Creed III
  • Crysis 3
  • Far Cry 3
  • Tomb Raider

Hooray for archaic weaponry!

Categories
Gaming

Humble Indie Bundle 5

Just mere days after the Indie Game Music Bundle, the 5th Humble Indie Bundle is perhaps the best bundle of them all, containing several mega-indie-hits:

  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent, perhaps the best horror game in recent years.
  • Psychonauts, one of Double Fine’s best adventure games. And that’s considering all of Double Fine’s games have been excellent.
  • LIMBO, the nightmarish child-death simulator. I mean a puzzle platformer with mysterious story.
  • Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP, an amazing pixel art musical journey.
  • Bastion, the game I consider to have the best story of 2011.

Plus all the soundtracks to those games, and Bastion and Superbrothers have some great soundtracks. There are still 10 days to pay for this amazing bundle, and you can donate some or all of that money to the Child’s Play charity or the EFF. So you get some awesome games and contribute to some good causes.

Categories
Gaming

Indie Game Music Bundle 3

The Indie Game Music Bundle returns for the third time with a set of sweet soundtracks, including the wonderful soundtrack to Dustforce, Fastfall by Lifeforced, and Laura Shigihara’s great Plants vs Zombies soundtrack. Pay over $10 and you also get Alec Holowka’s (Aquaria) soundtrack to Offspring Fling, along with the soundtracks to Noitu Love and inMomentum.

Categories
General

Spoiler

Categories
Gaming

Diablo III Launch Incoming

I’m so excited!